North Bay Fires Interrupt NCS Preparations


Jack Bunzel-Hardie, Staff Writer

Sports practices were cancelled throughout the district on October 28 due to unsafe air quality levels as a result of smoke from North Bay fires, directly affecting the athletes and teams vying for North Coast Section (NCS) qualification.

Principal John Walker, a member of the administrative board that made the decision, said, “For NCS – the North Coast Section – the official number for canceling all competition is an AQI of 150 or higher.”

However, Walker noted that the district also has its own policy for lower air quality readings that impacted team practice sessions. “There are different metrics we use for practice…if air quality is in the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ range, so that’s over 100, 100-150, we’ll modify practice. So you could do a team meeting, you could do a walk through, but you could not have physical exertion.” 

Over the last 3 years there have been multiple instance of poor air quality as a result of major fires, but the administration has worked diligently with other schools to avoid cancellations or forfeits of important games, said Walker.

Walker acknowledged the difficulty with the decision to cancel practices.A lot of it has to do with the venue. A brand new gymnasium with a state of the art HVAC system might be able to maintain clean air. Our gym is older, and if the air is bad outside the air is bad inside also,” said Walker.

Further complicating recent athletic schedules was the Public Safety Power Shutoff procedure used by Pacific Gas and Electric, which cut power to several high school campuses in the region.

“You can’t play in a dark gym.  If you don’t have power, the pool is not to be used. There’s also a concern that if you run practice even up to sunset then the kids are driving home on dark streets. So we do a 5pm hard stop on practice when there’s no power at this time of year so they can get home with a little bit of light,” Walker added.

While administrators made decisions to cancel athletic events in the name of safety for athletes, some athletes were frustrated by the inability to prepare for their playoff push.

The boys’ varsity water polo team was forced to reschedule its game against Miramonte. Assistant varsity coach Scott Zurnacion said, “Overall it is a huge bummer because we have been training all season for this and as much pool time as we can get is always beneficial.”

Zurnacion, a Campolindo alum, noted that these fires have only happened recently. “When I was at Campo, something like this never happened. I would say the pool heater broke maybe once or twice and that cancelled practice, but never we had a fire issue,” he said.

AP Environmental Science teacher Jane Kelson explained that the decision to cancel sports in these conditions is likely a smart 1, considering what is really in the air at that point.

“The AQI monitors several aspects of air quality. 2 of them are PM 10 and PM 2.5. The 10 and 2.5 represent particle size. 2.5 is very, very small and created from combustion. When there is a fire, the 2.5 levels spike. What makes it so dangerous is that is really so small,” explained Kelson. “When you breath it in, it goes into your lungs, heart and brain. That is why you get a headache and a burning throat among other things. It obviously isn’t good for you. Research also shows that inhaling this can have long term effects.”

Walker said that for the future the district will “continue to monitor [the air quality].”

“We use Purple air and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District site. We can never compete or practice in unsafe conditions,” he said.